They say the greatest tragedy of all is when a parent outlives a child. Last year we mourned with Kadiatou and Saikou Diallo, who lost their son, Amadou, in a hail of 41 police bullets in February. Mrs. Diallo's heartrending account of her son's death in the November issue of ESSENCE magazine reminds us of the need to keep up the fight against racial profiling and police brutality whenever and wherever they strike.
This election year, groups and ordinary people are working to keep racial profiling and police brutality on the national radar. The Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2000, which grew out of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) hearings on police brutality, carries stiff penalties for police violence. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed class action suits in Maryland and New Jersey, forcing state officials to re-evaluate traffic-stop procedures.
But in addition to these strategies, each of us must play a critical role in preventing and punishing police violence. Here are three ways to protect yourself and your community:
If you are confronted by police:
* Keep hands in plain view. Don't make sudden movements.
* Don't try to talk your way out of trouble or warn them you'll file a complaint. Anything you say can be used against you.
* Assert your rights calmly if cops ask to search you or your possessions. You have a right to say "I don't consent." An officer may search anyway, but anything they find may be excluded from court evidence if you can prove the search was unlawful.
* Try to remember an officer's name or badge number, as well as a detailed account of the incident so you can write them down as soon as possible after the encounter. Always have a pen, paper and a disposable camera in your car. Take photos of any injuries or damage.
Join a citizen review board.
Many cities have citizen review or community policing boards, which oversee funding to local police departments, and counsel departments on community relations and complaints. Call your local town or city council, or your ward president, to join an existing board or to start one. Or, talk to church and civic leaders about starting a board independent of your city or ward.
Elect representatives who have shown that ending police brutality is a priority. Also, mobilize your neighbors to vote. Elected officials are more likely to respond to complaints from a district that has a 60 percent turnout than one that has a 15 percent turnout. Additionally, if the Democratics re-take the House after the November elections, they have a better chance of working with House Judiciary Committee members, like John Conyers (D) of Michigan, to pass legislation that helps us police the police.
For more info, visit these sites:
U.S. House of Representatives, www.house.gov, to contact your congressional representative and urge her/him to pass the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2000
John Conyers, www.house.gov/conyers
100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, members.tripod.com/blacksnlaw
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives,
National Action Network, www.nationalaction.net
Stolen Lives Project, www.unstoppable.com/22
National Police Complaint Center, www.policeabuse.com.